I have decided to dip my toe into the controversial waters that have quickly gone from a gentle wave lapping at the shore to a full on rogue wave dividing many a real foodie. Exactly what waters am I referring to? The mason jar versus Pickl-It debate.
For those of you who have no clue what I am referring to, let me give you the simplified version of a rather complex story. You see, those of us who subscribe to a real foods diet or a diet designed to heal our guts, typically do a lot of our own lacto-fermentation. What is this lacto-fermentation of which I speak?
The term “fermented” may sound unpalatable but this ancient preparation and preservation method, which involves breaking down carbohydrates and proteins using microorganisms such as bacteria, molds, and yeast, produces delicious, healthy food.
Fermented foods are amazingly powerful. Here is a short list outlining the health benefits of fermented foods and beverages. They:
- Help your body breakdown otherwise difficult to digest foods and make the nutrients more accessible
- Maintain a more regular and efficient digestive system
- Promote more efficient energy production
- Increase nutrient consumption, absorption and impact
- Build immune function by stimulating cellular and antibody function and creating more immunoreactive cells
- Help build and maintain a healthy intestinal wall that resists leakage of harmful toxins into the bloodstream caused by poor diet and digestion
- Decrease allergic reactions by exposing your body to natural microbial colonies, which helps develop immunity to allergen exposure
- Restore digestive health and re-build gut flora after exposure to antibiotics, which kill all good and bad bacteria
- Increase the vitamin content of the food
- Lower cholesterol
- Reverse hypertension by lowering blood pressure
- Help alleviate irritable bowel symptoms
- Aid digestion of lactose and proteins
There is a lot more science behind all of this but since this post is going to get a little lengthy, I wanted to keep your attention long enough to get to the real heart of the issue at hand.
The Great Debate
KerryAnn of Cooking Traditional Foods fame opened up a discussion that took on a life of its own. In the spirit of keeping health conscious individuals well informed, KerryAnn embarked upon a series of posts which blew the lid off of the mason jar. You see, mason jars have been the go-to vessel to ferment foods in. They are also often used to store fermented foods in.
The mason jar was given the thumbs up by Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions as well as by Sandor Ellix Katz in Wild Fermentation. Seeing that both Sally Fallon and Sandor Ellix Katz are considered authorities on lacto-fermentation, it is no wonder that nobody thought to question the use of a mason jar.
Well, KerryAnn did and boy did she step in a big steaming pile of you know what because of it.
Let me try to keep this simple again. KerryAnn proposes that the mason jar is actually NOT the ideal vessel to ferment and store fermented foods in. In effect, it has the potential to do more harm than good. She goes so far as to suggest that you might not be getting many of those health benefits I listed if you are using a mason jar.
Why all the fuss over a mason jar?
There is no way to keep this short and to the point so I suggest that you visit KerryAnn’s series to get the full picture. (Links are at the end of this post).
What this all boils down to is the fact that in order for a food to properly ferment, it needs an airtight environment. This snippet from one of KerryAnn’s posts, Controversy: Pickl-It vs. Mason Jars, discusses this.
Research shows that LAB (Lactic Acid Bacteria) thrives best in an anaerobic environment. Anaerobic means that oxygen is not present; aerobic means that oxygen is present. In order to get LABs to proliferate, you must have an anaerobic environment to encourage their growth while discouraging the growth of all non-beneficial species, especially the aerobic ones.
In order to get an anaerobic environment for home fermentation you need two things- a seal that prevents oxygen from entering and an airlock that allows carbon dioxide to escape. Without an anaerobic environment, the LABs will not flourish. Open air fermentation will not produce large concentrations of LABs. As the bacteria produce carbon dioxide and use up the oxygen, it reduces the population of undesirable, aerobic bacteria and allows the LAB to flourish in the oxygenless environment. The Pickl-It provides this type of environment, as it as an airtight seal and an airlock for the growing carbon dioxide to escape.
Remember all those health benefits I outlined above? Well, without LABs present in your fermented foods, you aren’t getting squat. Ok, maybe you are getting a little something, but LABs are what makes the fermented foods world go ‘round.
Houston, we have a problem!
The backlash from KerryAnn’s research and subsequent posts has been overwhelming. I have been keeping up with it and can see how easily confused just about everyone can get. With so many people married to their mason jars, convinced that they have been doing it correctly and benefiting, it is no wonder that the fermenters of the world are up in arms. Creatures of habit that we humans are, we sure do not like change.
There have been some rather nasty comments pointed at KerryAnn as it relates to her endorsing the Pickl-It as well. Many individuals are convinced that this entire fiasco is related to some sort of business relationship she has with Pickl-It and that KerryAnn is making a mountain out of a molehill in the name of the almighty dollar.
Say it ain’t so!
Well, it ain’t so folks. KerryAnn isn’t making diddly from Pickl-It. If anything, endorsing Pickl-It as the fermenting vessel of choice has caused HER more harm than good. But in the name of science and health, KerryAnn is continuing to research and provide sound, scientific information so that we can all decide to what to do about our collection of mason jars.
What would Hybrid Rasta Mama do?
So glad you asked!
When I first started my fermentation journey, I was using mason jars like everyone else. I knew about fermenting crocks but could not afford one. So I plugged away, fermenting my foods in my little mason jars.
My success rate was pretty bleak. My gluten free sourdough starter loved his mason jar, sauerkraut did ok about 50% of the time, and my lemons were a success but everything else…a complete mess! We’re talking fuzzy mold, white mold, slime, stink, and unusual colors. I had soggy, soggy ferments. No crisp and tangy fermented foods in my kitchen!
I hated wasting food. I hated wasting money. I looked online for a solution. I found a really mind-blowing course on fermenting foods from Jenny of Nourished Kitchen. Get Cultured – Learn How To Ferment Anything was awesome but I was still having troubles with the final fermented product.
I kept searching for an answer. Was it where I was putting my mason jars? Was it how I was cleaning my mason jars? Was it the brand of salt?
After a few weeks of blowing up Google, I finally stumble on Pickl-It’s website. I read every word contained on its pages. I soaked up the information. I did more research. I actually read several scientific studies about the art of fermentation. And I was convinced that it was the mason jar’s inability to create an airtight environment that was causing all of my fermenting woes.
I ordered several Pickl-Its and NEVER looked back. My ferments have been beautiful and delicious ever since. And better yet – I have noticed a huge difference in how my body responds to fermented food now that it is fermenting properly and soaking up all those little LABs.
No – I am not part of some mason jar/Pickl-It conspiracy!
To prove it, I am going to provide you with links to OTHER products that are similar to the Pickl-It. I have not used them personally and cannot testify to their fermenting prowess but I will say that they have potential for greatness. You will notice that I also include links to products that do not include the jars but instead provide an airlock system that you can use on your existing mason jars. I am honestly on the fence about these. KerryAnn raised some interesting points about this concept as well but this post is already too long so I’m going to leave well enough alone!
In addition, if mason jars are all you can afford then go for it! I’m not telling you to stop doing something if you are quite sure it is working. But my advice…start squirreling away your pocket change so you can invest in at least one product that will create the perfect, airtight environment for those delectable ferments of yours.
Onto showcase #1…
Cultures For Health has two products available:
Fermented Vegetable Master – This glass jar includes an airlock set-up which facilitates gas escaping your fermented vegetables while keeping air out. It is more basic than the Pickl-It but it is cheaper running $11-$22.
The Perfect Pickler – This airlock set up fits on standard wide-mouth canning jars (specifically Kerr* and Ball* brands of jars). For $19.99 you get a lid and grommet, s-style airlock, rubber gasket, spacer cup, 1/4 lb. Celtic Sea Salt, and instructions. Does not include the jar.
And in our second showcase…
Homesteader Supplies has two products available as well:
Pickle-Pro Home Pickling Kit which is another all-in-one airlock set up with a glass jar. Prices range from $11.88-$18.30.
Pickle-Pro Vegetable Fermenting Lid – for $14.40 you get a lid with airlock and a rubber seal that fits all wide mouth canning jars.
With a special third showcase…
Perfect Pickler also has two products:
Glass Jar Kit – for $25.50 you get the glass jar with the special airlock and lid. It also has a spacer cup.
Mason Jar Kit – for $19.50 you get the airlock lid that fits any size mason jar.
And of course, the Pickl-It
They only offer the all-in-one system that comes with:
- Glass Fermenting Container – lead-free, high-quality, Italian-made glass with stainless steel, lead-free wire-bail; meets California safety standards.
- Glass Lid with installed airlock grommet – lead-free Italian glass and stainless steel, lead-free wire-bail; USA-made silicone grommet specially-designed to resist lactic-acid created during fermentation; meets California safety standards.
- Barrel Air Lock – Widely used in the making of beer and wine, allows escape of damaging oxygen, and excess carbon dioxide gas, prevents oxygen from entering; 3-part system is easy to disassemble and clean.
- Dunk’R – High-quality laboratory food-grade, toxin-free, food-safe glass weight;
- Plug’R: Superior dishwasher-safe and lactic-acid resistant silicone, the Plug’R converts the Pickl-It containers from fermentation to refrigerated food-storage.
- BPA-Free Cover Gasket – Superior all-natural rubber material is food-safe; dish-washer safe; one-size fits all Pickl-It lids
Prices range from $23-$39, depending on size. You can order a bundle of three or more and save 5%.
So many choices, so much information, so little time!
I encourage you to continue on in your quest for fermenting knowledge. As promised, here are KerryAnn’s posts, all of which are incredibly informative and a must read if you are trying to figure out this whole mason jar controversy!
- Controversy: Pickl-It vs Mason Jars
- Lactic Acid Bacteria and the Lowly Mason Jar
- Video Blog: Pickl-It Q&A
- Pickl-It Q&A: Answering Your Questions
- Stewardship, Lactic Acid Bacteria and Probiotic Pills
- Video Blog: Pickl-It Q&A April 15th
- How Do I Know My Lactoferment is Ready?
- Video Blog: Pickl-It Q&A April 22
- Three Lies about Lactofermentation That Might Be Affecting Your Health
- Salt and Lacto-Fermentation
- But I Thought It Was Anaerobic As Long As It Was Under The Brine?!?
And here are a few more posts worth reading:
- Fermenting Methods: We’ve Had it All Wrong From Delicious Obsessions
- Aerobic vs Anaerobic Fermentation Controversy From the Wild Fermentation Blog
- Are Mason Jar Ferments Safe? From Food Renegade
Are you still with me? Did I lose you along the way? If not, what are your thoughts? Please play nice. My blog is filled with peace and love. Let’s not upset the apple cart ok?